Short thought I had last night. TED, as we know, is an elitist event that with a problematic epistemology. I think this take from Education Rethink captures some of the larger problems with the format and culture:
TED Talks are the megaphones in the midst of a conversation… When I tweet about vulnerability, someone will be quick to send a link to a TED Talk. If I question whether students can truly be entirely self-directed (especially in the realm of reading), someone tweets me Mitra’s TED Talk on minimally invasive learning. When I question the nature of creativity and the role of limitations in fostering it, the first response is nearly always Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk.
Put another way, TED elevates a chosen elite, but at the cost of shutting down local conversation and culture.
If this sounds all-too-familiar to the MOOC set, it’s probably not a coincidence. After all, Sebastian Thrun didn’t decide to found Udacity after talking to a professor at San Jose State, or touring Pakistan. He took steps towards creating Udacity after watching a TED talk by Salman Khan. The conversation began with TED, and continues to be mediated through TED. The DNA of TED and xMOOCs is so intertwined as to be indistinguishable at times.
But it’s precisely this similarity that suggests a way forward for organizations like edX. Because there’s another aspect to TED that builds local community rather than erodes it: TEDx. TEDx, for those who don’t know, works like TED, but is run by local communities:
Created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” the TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.
I haven’t done a scientific survey, but what I’ve heard back from people participating in these smaller events is that they’ve been transformative — not because of any wisdom raining down on people in 18-minute segments, but because they’ve brought together local communities, fostered new connections, and jump-started important local conversations.
It occurs to me that edX has a similar issue to TED. For the core of what they do to remain prestigious, it must remain elite. And you see that in the schools they’ve recruited.
That’s not a bad thing. Prestige opens doors and gets attention in a culture where attention is the scarcest of resources. I don’t know that change is possible in higher education without leveraging some sort of prestige. Prestige greases the wheels of higher education.
But if we want to start conversations, build connections, and strengthen higher education, an additional approach is required. Why not adopt the TED/TEDx model? Start a co-branded segment of edX that allows community colleges, public four-years, and second tier research universities to share and exchange courses among one another. Provide some architecture for compensation, sustainability, publicity, licensing, and publication. Maybe cloud-host it on the OpenEdX platform. Cross-list offerings through edXx (yes the name is a joke, but you get the point) on the edX site as a “Would you like to also search” option.
Maybe it would work; maybe it wouldn’t. But non-elite institutions have been talking for years about forming such collectives; maybe the prestige of edX could be used to oil the cogs of cooperation. Or if not edX, something similar.
TED was about “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx, from what I hear, has become about conversations worth starting. Maybe it’s time we too a similar approach with MOOCs?